Is radio killing itself?

The following was a Facebook comment that I posted in response to a question about the nature of today's "formatic" radio in this modern age, whether radio should be narrowly formatted, the value of the DJ/presenter and the length of stopsets (the commercial breaks). 

The problem in America is that there are too many radio stations, therefore, the formats that we did have were narrowed even thinner and there are so many duplicating formats.  I can't even count the number of country stations we have right now on Delmarva.

Radio was once a promoter of music.  Local DJs would welcome acts into cities and radio stations would regularly announce what labels songs were on.  These days, the only true promoters of music are Radio Disney (which still has some personality) and Walmart.  

In the UK, before consolidation, the presenter (what we call a DJ) was a very important element of the station.  The presenter not only announced the songs, but was also a companion.  

In Japan, where there are fewer radio stations (normally 1 FM station and 2 AM stations per prefecture), stations are very much a community service.  Because of J1, I have built programs that scour the onair playlists of FM stations there.  The average FM station in Japan plays about 160 songs per day.(average 7 songs per hour).  The rest of the time is talk and commercials (and in Japan, the stopsets and the commercials within them are shorter).  Japan also still has network radio.  JFN, the Japan FM Network airs programming on nearly 40 affilliated stations across the country, but like American network television, those programs air in the evenings and at times on weekends.  The stations themselves are still local.  

America is a very entitled culture. We want what we want and we want it now.  If they want to hear music, they feel they should not have to deal with the DJ, because if they don't like how a station sounds, they can move to a different station with a similar format or they can just do like many have done, switched to "non-radio".  As a result of this competition from non-radio, broadcast stations have lost their market share, spread out even thinner because of the large number of stations (post 80-90) we have here.  Their market share is further thinned out by "non-radio".  Who would have ever thought of sports talk on FM 40 years ago?  

Radio needs to be right-sized.  When Section 307(b) of the Communications Act was put into law by Congress back in 1934, the idea was that licenses be fairly distributed to as many communities as possible.  In this day and age, those community allotments are not necessarily used to program to those communities, but to be used as a "base" for programming to a larger area, hence the rise of the "rim shots".  Stations allowed themselves to get "big" during a time before the mobile app and SiriusXM.  Now, with the evolving technology, we have these 100 kW blowtorches that are fighting for listeners now, but they don't want to sacrifice their facilities to be more local.  Because of the non-radio competition, listeners have new expectations.   

It would be nice if radio could go back closer to its roots by being a community leader and providing programming that is tailored to the community that may not be available on spotify, perhaps people will realize that they already have the greatest "app" ever made and it is one of the oldest "apps" of them all, the radio.   

The only way that radio can work is if we bring diversity and unique content back to it.  This does not mean playing the same 50 country songs that everyone else is playing. It does not mean taking over stations across the country and piping in the same contemporary christian music programmed from California.  With the recent elimination of the anti-duplication rule for FM, the FCC further took away that diversity.  

For now, what do we do?  First of all, we need to assure that stupid things are not done, such as the local origination/service contour expansion of FM translators in RM-11858.  We also need to promote HD Radio on FM, make receivers more accessible to the public, make equipment more affordable to stations and encourage the use of the HD subchannels.  With that, we need to eliminate the "HD" loophole on FM translators.  We also need to get rid of AM HD hybrid and the very restrictive NRSC5 standards.  Go to shortwave and listen to stations like WTWW and hear how good music can sound without the bandwidth limitations in NRSC5.  All-digital AM MA3 should be a part of the overall solution.  Pai's band-aid plan to "revitalize" AM by giving them crutches on FM is not working.  Instead, we need to expand our FM band and allow smaller AM stations to migrate their costly facilities to more reasonable higher powered FM facilities in an expanded band.   For many AM stations, the land the tower is on is more valuable than the station itself.  

These kinds of things can't be done in a Pai/O'Reilly FCC.  Radio needs to come back to the community, but at the same time, there's nothing wrong with having some nationwide players, as long as there is room on the dial for local entities.    There are more things that can be done that can improve radio, but those ideas would step all over the first amendment, something that needs much more preserving than radio.

Views expressed are not those of REC Networks.